The 10 Best Final Girls: Horror Movie Edition

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween Kills
Universal Pictures / © 2021 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. All Rights Reserved.

Whether you like horror movies or not, October is the perfect time to absorb all of the spooky content you can. Though perhaps the thing you’re looking for most in a scary movie is a “likable” hero to root for. Well, look no further than the best horror film trope: the final girl.

What is the significance of final girls?

Author Carol J. Clover coined the term of the final girl as “the last girl standing at the end of a horror movie.” The final girl is typically prevalent in slasher movies, where the female protagonist outlives her counterparts because of her dedication, diligence, and wit. Since she is usually a complex person facing her own struggles, the final girl becomes the person we want to succeed. We root for her survival, and she does so every time with extreme force.

From one of the original final girls like Laurie Strode to more modern heroines like Sidney Prescott, here is a ranking list of the 10 best final girls, horror movie edition.

#10 best final girls: Julie James, I Know What You Did Last Summer

Playing Julie James, Jennifer Love Hewitt, one of the ‘90s rom-com film and TV ingénues, takes her turn as a final girl in the slasher series I Know What You Did Last Summer. This final girl harbors a dark secret shared among her ex-boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and ex-friends Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Barry (Ryan Phillippe).

While Julie may escape the killer’s wrath only by chance, her horror scream is unlike any other. We can’t forget the iconic line she screams, “What are you waiting for?!” while her arms flail in the air.

#9 best final girls: Dani Ardor, Midsommar

Midsommar is Ari Aster’s follow up horror film after 2018’s Hereditary. Following a family tragedy, protagonist Dani (Florence Pugh) struggles with her grief as she tags along with her emotionally distant boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) on his trip to a Swedish folk festival.

While the movie horrifyingly uncovers the festival as a sacrificial ritual, Dani begins to gain her power back. Through Florence Pugh’s heartbreaking performance of a woman dealing with grief, we root for Dani’s tiny glimpse of happiness in the film’s final moments. She has finally broken free of the monster of a toxic relationship, even if she is now trapped in a cult. Cue the iconic flowery cape and crown.

#8 best final girls: Jeryline, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight

Jada Pinkett Smith plays Jeryline in Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight. With a blonde pixie cut and fierce outlook, the ex-con turned heroine uses her intelligence to defeat killer demons. Amidst all the terror and blood-filled shots, Jeryline is a final girl who has control of her own agency.

Unlike most characters in a horror movie, Jeryline doesn’t succumb to the villain and his traps. She is far from perfect, attempting to find ways to escape her criminal past and see the world. She’s a real, flawed woman who kicks butt in the process. Jada Pinkett Smith’s headstrong portrayal has set Jeryline as an influential final girl for years to come.

#7 best final girls: Maddie Young, Hush 

Hush takes on a different horror approach by tackling the magnitude of silence. The final girl, Maddie Young (Kate Siegel), is a deaf and mute novelist, isolated in her home in the woods. When a masked attacker invades her home, Maddie uses her independent nature and resources to fight for her life.

Horror films have often failed in representing characters with disabilities. Though Maddie faces adversity, she lets her strength carry out her will to survive. The silence may signify the tension and ongoing fear, but it never weakens Maddie. This final girl proves she’s an unforgettable protagonist in the horror genre.

#6 best final girls: Adelaide Williams, Us

Portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o, Adelaide Williams is the trickiest but most interesting final girl on this list. In Us, the film’s director Jordan Peele turns the idea of villain and hero on its head. Like with Get Out, Us is a social commentary on the world we live in, with a focus on the idea of how we view inequality and ourselves.

With intense maternal instincts and past trauma, Adelaide fights for the lives of her family when their tethered doppelgangers come to attack. Adelaide’s connection with her doppelganger is what helps her plan every move that saves her family. She’s not the ideal final girl, with a plot twist completely shattering the idea of who is the victim and who is the monster.

#5 best final girls: Nancy Thompson, Nightmare on Elm Street 

Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is our girl next door who also happens to be a total final girl. When her friend group is terrorized in their dreams by a killer named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), Nancy works to end Freddy’s killer reign for good.

Dealing with dismissive parents, Nancy uses her resourcefulness and independence to figure out the connection between Freddy Krueger and her own fears. She must deal with the brutal murders of all of her friends, which in turn establishes her power against the child killer. With skillful booby traps and the refusal to give in, Nancy earns her final girl title.

#4 best final girls: Sally Hardesty, Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) is regarded as one of horror’s first final girls. As she’s traveling with her brother and friends to investigate vandalism on her grandfather’s grave, Sally doesn’t expect to be running for her life from a chainsaw-carrying cannibal named Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen).

While all of her friends are murdered by Leatherface and his family of cannibals, Sally fights to save herself. Her strength comes from her willingness to live by jumping out of windows and stopping right in front of a pick-up truck. The movie’s last moments where Sally sits in the back of the pick-up truck, laughing hysterically at Leatherface, will be etched in horror history forever.

#3 best final girls: Ellen Ripley, Alien

Ellen Ripley, who’s played by Sigourney Weaver, is the only final girl on this list with extensive military experience combined with a degree in engineering. Ellen operates as a multi-dimensional woman: combative, responsible, and emotional. She’s also a single mother. What can this woman not do?!

Instead of screaming in horror at the incoming killer alien monster, Ellen springs into action, using every resource she has to knock out the creature. Her toughness and brainpower push her to become the role model for all final girls and sci-fi action stars. We still replay her final words in the first film, “This Is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo… signing off.”

#2 best final girls: Sidney Prescott, Scream

Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is often labeled the modern final girl. When we first meet her, she can be seen as the typical female protagonist. Sidney’s an ordinary teenage girl going to classes and avoiding sex with her insanely gorgeous boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich). In reality, Sidney is this emotionally distant young woman still dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s murder while punching reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) in the process.

When Sidney finds out her “lovable” boyfriend and his friend Stu (Matthew Lillard) are behind the murder spree, she must go into survival mode. Rather than run from the newly discovered killers, Sidney preps her attack, taunting the 2 over a phone call (what goes around comes around!). We can’t wait to see this final girl get even more vengeance in the upcoming Scream film.

#1 best final girls: Laurie Strode, Halloween 

Our number 1 spot goes to our favorite final girl: Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Since 1978, Laurie has been fighting for her life against killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle). She’s known as the leader of the final girls, deepening audiences’ love and appreciation for the heroine in horror films.

After Laurie is saved by Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) in the first Halloween movie, she grows into this self-sufficient and powerful woman who will stop at nothing to defeat the killer wreaking havoc on her town. Even as Laurie grows older, her fight and strength never waver. She will save Haddonfield, Illinois from the murder spree of Michael Myers, and we love watching every second of it.

Did your final girl make the list? Who’s your all-time favorite final girl? Let us know in the comments!

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